To Tithe or Not to Tithe: Are We Encroaching Upon a Divine Mandate?

So, I’m in the process of updating and expanding The Bridge. I overhauled this chapter and wanted to give you a preview. I am on the third edit – this is the run through where I read everything out loud and check my notorious predilection for using the wrong verb tense.

 

tithe

This is actually a funny question – because tithing is “Old Testament Law” and cannot be justified outside of it.  Yet the tithe is preached as an ultimatum even when the rest of the law is denigrated.  In the New Testament, we often see freewill offerings given to the apostles and the poor, and Paul strenuously reminding people to give for the sake of the ministry work.  The tithe itself is mentioned by Yeshua (Jesus) as being good,[1] so let’s look at it in context.

The tithe served a specific function in ancient Israel.  The Levites were not allotted an inheritance like the rest of the Tribes, with private land and the opportunities that afforded.  They had their own cities and pastures, but their primary purpose in life was serving YHVH and the Nation.  During the forty years in the wilderness, specific groups were responsible for carrying certain parts of the Tabernacle as the Nation travelled from place to place, and the sons of Aaron served in the Tabernacle and later the Temple itself as priests.

As such, it was the responsibility of the Nation to support them with their tithes, in the form of the first fruits of their harvest.  In this way, they never suffered lack – as long as the people obeyed the commandment.

Numbers 18:21-24: “And to the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. And the sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, lest they bear sin and die. Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.'” 

The tithe was actually given as a part of the Royal Grant Covenant to the sons of Levi as a perpetual ordinance, just as the priesthood was given specifically to the sons of Aaron by that same royal grant. Remember that covenants never go away – the tithe was designated as a perpetual gift to a certain genetic line for their service to God. Levites were not given the same land gifts, and so in recognition of that, they had a right to be fed off the bounty of that Land by the rest of Israel. The tithe was not monetary, but instead the produce because the produce of the land of Israel was from the Hand of God Himself and every Israelite had the right to eat of it. That way everyone benefited from the “good Land.”

We have no right to say that what was specifically designated for one group now belongs to another when YHVH said that it was a perpetual statute for the Levites, but that is what modern pastors have done. Even some ministers who have moved to pursuing Torah now say that they are doing the work of the Levites.  But they are often not doing the work and are certainly not living the life of the Levites, whose duties are clearly spelled out and generally they are not even genetically Levites.  This is what is called “Replacement Theology” — taking what belongs to one group and transferring it to another without a “Thus saith the Lord.”  It is nothing short of an encroachment upon God’s sovereign and exclusive right to give gifts to whomever He chooses and to set apart certain groups of people to certain eternal duties. The tithe served the purpose of taking care of the tribe that had no inheritance in the land, and therefore no ability to gather land or accumulate wealth; it was also used to feed the poor, widows and orphans, and to provide food for the individual celebration of the feasts.

There were several aspects to the tithe – the first tithe (tenth) was especially holy and was given to the Levites; it could only come from the produce of the Land. The second tithe was taken to Jerusalem to be eaten in the presence of God[2] during the first, second, fourth and fifth years of every seven year cycle and again, could only be the produce of the Land. The tithe of the third and sixth years went instead to feed the poor.[3] During the seventh year, there was no tithe as the Land was supposed to be given its rest. If a person lived far enough away and did not wish to transport their tithe, they had the option to redeem the produce for money locally and bring the money to Jerusalem in order to buy more feast materials there[4] – but that which was consumed within Jerusalem during the Feast was to be produce from the Land – it had to be holy. If a person wished to keep the first tithe, he had to add a fifth of its value and present the money it was worth to the Levites so that they, in turn, could buy the produce of the Land and eat from it.[5] Tithed animals, however, could not be redeemed.[6]

I am not against giving, but when someone tells you to tithe to them, ask them if they are a Levite, or if they are even biblically eligible to perform the Levitical functions spelled out in scripture.  Support those teaching you, by all means, and support the poor, the widows and the orphans (who were also to be the recipients of the tithe[7]).  But do not think that supporting pastors on salary and building larger buildings is the same thing as fulfilling the Levitical tithe commandment.  The tithe is specifically designated by YHVH, for YHVH’s purposes, from YHVH’s Land of Israel, and we don’t have the right to change what He said. We absolutely need to support our teachers and I can tell you that when I give I am blessed exceedingly abundantly – I honor God by honoring those who He has given to teach me. I guess you could say that I refuse to take spiritual food from their table if I am not putting actual food on their table.

Like many Torah issues, this is subject to debate within the Body and there is nothing wrong with a healthy and respectful debate. The bottom line is this – regardless of whether or not the tithe is in practical effect in modern times, the truth is that when we bless and honor the people who teach and minister to us, we are blessing and honoring our King who sent them out.  When we take financial care of the poor, the widows and the orphans, we are showing the heart of our Father.

I highly encourage anyone wanting to learn more about the Royal Grant Covenant to check out Rico Cortes’ covenant studies at www.wisdomintorah.com

[1] Matt 23:23

[2] Deut 12:17-18; 14:22-23

[3] Deut 14:28-29

[4] Deut 14:24-26

[5] Lev 27:31

[6] Lev 27:33

[7] Deut 26:12

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2 Comments


  1. I have always wondered about the third tithe for the poor. Was it an added tithe in the 3 & 6 years or did one of the other tithes get reallocated to the poor? And if it was reallocated, was it the Levite tithe or the tithe that you were to take to Jerusalem for the festivals? Thanks so much!! I have been perusing your blog for the last couple days and find it delightful. Thanks for all your hard work.

    Reply

    1. Hi Keirsten, I apologise for not seeing this until now – I had four perfectly good non-spam comments waiting for me in my trash bin. First tithe was to the Levites/priesthood and it was collected every year except the seventh between the third and seventh month. Second tithe was brought in the seventh month in the first, second, fourth and fifth years and was eaten at the feast. Third tithe was brought in the third and sixth year for the benefit of the Levites and the poor. hope that helps, please don’t hesitate to ask more questions – this time hopefully they won’t end up in the trash bin /rolleyes

      Reply

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